It only took a week, but the dust is finally settling on Boston Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton’s attack of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik on Dec. 7 and the story’s ending is finally becoming clear.
Orpik was put on injured reserve by the team with not date set yet for his return, but is already back skating with the Penguins, while teammate James Neal, suspended five games for a knee to the head of Bruins forward Brad Marchand just moments before the Thornton attack, will return to action this coming Wednesday.
Marchand, was no worse for wear from the hit and may have even had a few screws knocked into place, back to his pesky, pestering ways on Saturday night, despite struggling through much of the season. Not such good news for Bruins forward Loui Eriksson, railroaded just 11 seconds into the infamous contest by Orpik, a hit that stirred the rage of both sides, as the Swede was also put on IR and rumors are beginning to swirl he could be done for the season with a concussion.
As for Thornton, the NHL handed him a 15-game suspension for his actions.
The story is coming to a close, but will still carry a little steam as the argument rages as to whether or not the punishment fits the crime?
Folks from Pittsburgh will probably argue Thornton is no more than a thug for which there is no place in hockey and should have gotten more. Some in Boston are arguing Orpik is of far worse stock and got what he deserved after delivering his viscous hit of Eriksson and the suspension is too long given Thornton’s previously sterling reputation.
The truth, as is oft the case, lies somewhere in the middle.
Leading up to Thornton’s hearing with the Department of Player Safety, the common opinion seemed to be 10 games, which seemed more than fitting for Thornton. What he did was egregious and worthy of a lengthy suspension, but given his polished reputation for being a tough guy who never crosses the line – this is the first suspension of his 11-year career – and the way the game itself had unfolded, 10 seemed justified.
At first glance, 15 sounded a bit excessive. Remembering, however, Todd Bertuzzi received 20-games for his assault on Steve Moore – an attack far more despicable, but somewhat similar in nature – made it a little more understandable, but not without some lingering questions.
Will Thornton appeal?
Thornton’s once proud reputation took a big hit as soon as Orpik was stretchered off the ice. Will he ever get it back? Many are saying no, but that is also unjustified, and taking his suspension and just serving it honorably would go a long way in terms of restoring Thornton’s reputation.
Is the league making an example of Thornton?
That was amongst the initial reactions when news broke of the suspension. With head injuries being such a major focus in sports and leagues doing everything they can to take a hard line stance and combat such injuries, this was the chance for the NHL to make a stand. Was it easier for the league to hand out a lengthy, statement making suspension because Thornton is a player that the gets the least ice time on average than anyone else on the roster, his absence not the greatest of hindrances to the Bruins success?
Might be a little too conspiracy theory, but swayed only by the Bertuzzi suspension.
What message does this send to the rest of the league?
The debate of the role of violence in hockey is one that will probably endure as long as the game is played and one that factors heavily into this story. Agree with the violence in the game or not, Shawn Thornton’s role on the Bruins is to protect his teammates. The checks and balances, self-policing of the game that is supposed to make Neal think twice before he knees Marchand in the head and hold him accountable for his actions. A point possibly proven by the fact Neal skated directly to the bench and got off the ice after delivering the hit.
Thornton sought out Orpik to seek retribution for his hit on Eriksson early in the game. With such a lofty penalty levied in this instance, will Thornton now have to think twice about every hit he throws, every scrap he gets into the rest of his career? Will he no longer be able to effectively do his job of protecting his teammates? Does such a lengthy suspension set a precedent that will scare others like Thornton out of protecting their teammates, making it open season for cheap shots throughout the NHL?
It should not. There is a line that will always be walked, some often going too far, and there are likely no rules to be put in place or acts of self-policing that will ever change that. And come mid-January when he returns to the ice, Thornton should be able to go back to the player he has always been. Tentative at first, perhaps, but one act of rage should derail his game. Orpik will eventually return to game action as well with hopefully minimal lasting effect, and Eriksson hopefully shortly thereafter.
Soon enough the story will all be over.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.